EPA Cover-up of Sept. 11

Hundreds of Thousands May Die!

by Roland Sheppard

[This article and the ones that follow it are from the web site Labor Tuesday for February 12, 2002. The articles have been edited for Labor Standard.]

The implosion of the Word Trade Center (WTC) towers sent clouds of carcinogenic dust across New York City. The towers were built in the late 1970s, and asbestos was one of many different carcinogenic materials contained in the buildings. Everyone familiar with construction and the       carcinogens contained in high-rise structures immediately knew that there was a grave risk for all who were “downwind” from the dust cloud which was formed from the burning and “dustification” of the building.

A Washington Post article reported on some of the aftereffects of the dust cloud. “[T]hose who live or work downtown report strikingly similar symptoms: nosebleeds, sore throats, bronchial infections and an endless hacking cough…About one fourth of the city’s firefighters have       complained of severe coughing after working at ground zero, and more than a thousand have filed notices of claims against the city. Last week, four Port Authority police officers were reassigned from the site after they tested positive for elevated mercury levels in their blood…Dozens of students at nearby Stuyvesant High School have complained of rashes, nosebleeds, headaches and respiratory infections. Three teachers have left because of respiratory problems.”

Yet the EPA has refused to warn people of the hazards or even admit the potential of hazards to life itself. The EPA has repeatedly told residents the air is safe to breathe. The article goes on to explain: “But the EPA also found more troubling results, which it did not release until after the nonprofit New York Environmental Law and Justice Project filed a Freedom of Information Act request. These tests found elevated levels of dioxin, PCBs, lead and chromium, all toxic substances, in the air, soil and water around the site. In the wake of the attack, Christie Whitman, Environmental Protective Agency (EPA) Administrator, had said, “I am glad to reassure the people of New York…that their air is safe to breathe and their water is safe to drink.”

In referring to the EPA’s statements, the article quotes Joel Kupferman, the Executive Director of the Environmental Law and Justice Project: “‘They’ve (EPA) created this false climate that things are safe,’ he said. Alerted to concerns about [one] building, he said, ‘the project hired an independent industrial hygienist to conduct tests of surfaces there on Dec. 3, using methods published by the American Society for Testing and Materials. The tests found the presence of settled asbestos 555 times above the suggested acceptable level.’…Scientists with HP Environmental Inc. of Reston, Va., warn that the asbestos dust in Lower Manhattan is so finely pulverized that the EPA’s more conventional tests may not pick it up.”

Cancer from the known carcinogenic dusts that were released by the WTC Towers implosion takes 20 to 30 years to develop. From my understanding of the risks from materials that I and other painters are exposed to during the course of work, exposures 555 times the legally permissible level are going to create a catastrophe that will be hundreds of times more destructive to human lives than the initial implosion!

The sad fact is, that if the Environmental Protective Agency had lived up to its name, all of these prospective deaths from cancer and other preventable diseases could have been prevented. Preventive action could have been taken. In actuality, the EPA had/has more concerns to protect the financial environment of the employers in the area (Wall Street) and the financial environment of the companies that produce buildings made of carcinogens.

Science and technology are not obstacles to maintaining a safe environment. The barrier to a safe environment is capitalism and its paramount principle of production and science for profit. Most environmental studies demonstrate that environmental destruction has become globally intertwined with production for profit in our society and that the globalization of capitalism has quickened the destruction of the planet.

The struggle for environmental health and safety runs directly against the very fiber of capitalist production. In fact, environmental illness is so intertwined with the present form of production in our society that it requires all of humanity— in the overall interests of survival as a species—to correct the problem. It requires a society where humanity has social control over the entire environment, social, economic, and political—a socialist society in which science is in the interests of humanity in harmony with nature.

 [Roland Sheppard is a retired Business Representative of Painters Local 4 in San Francisco, a lifelong socialist and social activist. In 1995, he became a victim of occupational cancer due to his 31 years as a working painter. In the course of doing the scientific research to win his workers compensation lawsuit, he became more aware of the destruction of the environment and the hazards of work. He has been actively writing about the environment and occupational health and safety issues since 1998.]

© Copyright 2002 Roland Sheppard. All Rights Reserved.

For permission to reprint this article, send request to rgshep@aol.com

Thousands of Steel Industry Jobs Threatened

What’s a Steelworker to Do?

by Charles Walker

Sometimes, you can’t win for losing, right? Well, that adage also can apply to labor unions. Case in point: The United Steelworkers Union (USWA) is carrying on a high-powered lobbying campaign in Washington, trying to get the politicians to pick up some $12 billion in pension and health care costs for current and reluctant soon-to-be retirees.

The pensioners’ needs were supposed to be taken care of by steel corporations, but the bosses never got around to fully funding the pledges they made in negotiations and ratified when they signed union contracts. However, if the USWA is successful in saving their retirees’ bacon, thousands of union steel workers may permanently lose their jobs.

Why is that? Well, it seems that if the steel firms can get out from under their contractual obligations to their union retirees, the resulting savings will partly make feasible the merging of several unionized steel corporations. Of course other savings are necessary for such a combination to work as well as the corporations would like. Those savings would come through “restructuring,” a fancy word for cutting labor costs by eliminating “wasteful duplications,” such as union workers.

Now the USWA knows that getting the government to bail out the steel corporations is a double-edged sword. And they’re letting the steel bosses know that the union will not take kindly to “restructuring.” However, it’s not clear what they can do about it, or if that controversial issue is even being discussed as union and corporate tops jointly lobby their way through the halls of Congress. At this point it’s far from certain that the USWA has a strategy to take care of their retirees’ needs and at the same time keep a lot of working steelworkers on the job.

Given the weakened position of the Steelworkers union, it’s easy to see why their members are so threatened. And make no mistake: the Steelworkers union is not the powerful organization it was in the 1950s. Decades of concessionary bargaining have cost the union hundreds of thousands of members, and consequently its ability to successfully hold industry-wide strikes, as it once did, is history.

“Time and again our members have been asked to sacrifice on behalf of this industry. And time and again, when necessary, we have heeded the call,” said the USWA on Jan. 23, 2001. “Since 1980 we have worked with the companies to institute modern work practices, often in the face of great skepticism from our members. And we have accepted extremely modest wage and benefit improvements—allowing our standard of living to erode. Since 1980, real wages (adjusted for inflation) for Steelworkers have stagnated, while our productivity has increased by 174%.”

The USWA blames foreign steel imports for the U.S. steel industry’s problems, not the U.S. corporate steel bosses. “The current situation has its roots in the 1980’s when unfair trade and government indifference almost wiped out the American steel industry,” says the union. “The world steel industry is characterized by a variety of anti-competitive practices…One way or another, steel companies around the world benefit from government practices and policies that forestall adjustments mandated by the market. As a result, market forces are not able to bring world capacity and supply in line with demand.”

No doubt steel imports, which reportedly have a 17-18 percent share of the domestic market, have caused job losses. But under present conditions of worldwide overcapacity in the steel industry, restricting steel imports could force foreign steel workers into joblessness as cutbacks, layoffs, and bankruptcies hit them.

While imports may account for less than 18 percent of the U.S. market, relatively new non-union steel plants have gained nearly 50 percent of the U.S. market. The non-union firms’ production costs reportedly run about $376 a ton, as compared with $481 a ton at the unionized corporations.     While imports may be an irritant, clearly it’s the vigorously growing domestic non-union sector of the steel industry that is a major threat to the union’s remaining strength. With so much non-union steel available, the USWA can’t hope to duplicate its success of 1959 when the union fought back Big Steel’s attempt to rewrite the industry’s work rules with a 116-day nationwide strike.

Of course the union’s officialdom isn’t about to call a nationwide strike. Instead, the union and the interested steel owners are letting the Bush administration know that voters in states including Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia could make or break his reelection. William Klinefelter, a lobbyist for the United Steelworkers of America, asserts, “If things work out, the president can go back to those states and say, ‘This is what I did.’” Some sympathetic critics might say that it just defies common sense for the USWA to entrust its members’ security to politicians ultimately answerable to corporate America. But then what other course can be expected of union tops who are committed to a labor-management alliance with the very corporate bosses who betrayed their pledges to the union to provide the ranks’ medical and pension benefits?


[Some Views on the Entrenched Union Officialdom]


 “We must admit that progressives have, for the past half century, hesitated to criticize top union leaders on the argument that, however egregious the acts of some, anti-labor forces take comfort at internal dissension. I would like to suggest these are times for dissent. If the Left means anything in the labor movement it stands for democracy, militancy and class unity. When our leaders stray or sell us out we must raise our voices. Otherwise the Left remains less than a loyal opposition to the entrenched leaders.”

—Stanley Aronowitz, member, Professional Staff Congress, AFT, AAUP


 “They are people who are comfortable, people who believe they know how to play this game. They think it’s big stuff to go to the White House and have a handshake, even though on the issues of importance to working men and women, they’re getting screwed royally.”

—Bob Wages, quoted a few years ago when he was president of the Oil, Chemical, and Atomic Workers, AFL-CIO


 “For every enemy I made in the ranks of labor, I made two friends in the Chamber of Commerce.”

—Teamsters President Dave Beck (1952–57), The Lexicon of Labor, 1998


“Back in the mid-1970s then-AFL-CIO President George Meany said, ‘We believe in the American system. We don’t take to the streets and we don’t call general strikes and we don’t call political strikes.’”

—Kim Moody, Labor Notes (February 2002)